A man in front of air-brushed T-shirts.
Steve Raymond is an art vendor on Mission Street. Photo by Yastika Guru.

Steve Raymond’s long-running flirtation with the Mission District started in the late 1970s, when his mother bought a house on Shotwell Street. He’s visited on and off ever since then. 

“I would work on my art in Santa Cruz or Hawaii, wherever I was at the time, and then bring it to sell when I visited. I remember making Christmas-themed art for the Mission District, because I always visited during that season.”

But Kīlauea eruptions throughout the late 2010s moved him from Pahoa, Hawaii, to the Mission District.

“The volcano went up, and we were running for our lives. My son, who works for Uber Eats and Grubhub, wanted to come here. So I came here. There was never enough business in Santa Cruz or Hawaii. Here, there’s actually people; they have jobs and they’re walking by and they’re friendly too. They’re really nice people.” 

Now charmed by the area, he’s compelled to stay for good. It helps that he feels uniquely supported as an artist here more than anywhere else he’s lived. 

“I never dreamed in a million years that I’d be able to get an art vendor permit. But with the aid of Calle 24 and the San Francisco Arts Commission, it’s finally worked out. You can’t believe how happy I am. It took my whole life.” 

Raymond was originally selling at the 24th St. Mission Station BART Plaza, where a lot of vendors usually set up. But “it was too congested. Stuff got stolen. There were fights and drugs and drinking and it was just too much.” 

“The vendors actually all band together and protect each other. If there were any threats or problems, everyone would come back to each other.”

Calle 24 intervened to “straighten out” the space. “They came up with a plan to look for receipts to make sure everyone there was legal. Through a series of online applications, like the County of San Francisco and whatnot, I was able to get a permit.”

He’s at his current location, around 2763 Mission St., from Wednesdays to Sundays, selling T-shirts. 

“I did better at the plaza, but it was so much trouble. Here, I have more peace of mind. I can work freely. No one is bothering me. It is okay to have less sales, because I get to work on my art.”

Raymond, 68, has been making and studying art since 1968. 

“It’s a long haul. I wouldn’t advise it to anybody,” Raymond admitted, chuckling. “I refused to get a job, I just kept doing it. I went on welfare and I was able to get back in college on that. I studied more silkscreen with Linus Chao in Hawaii.” 

“I just can’t stop. I’m completely obsessed with it. As soon as I get up, with my herbal tea or coffee or whatever, till the time I go to bed. Everyday.” 

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Yastika is from India. She spends a lot of time on public transport.

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